Education occurs through the presentation and discussion of differing points of view. At the University of West Georgia (UWG) part of the educational mission is the belief that education requires all individuals to freely express themselves in a civil manner, even when one’s beliefs and values are contrary to those of the majority. In support of the U.S. Constitution, the laws of the State of Georgia, and the mission of UWG, the University will support the free exchange of ideas and beliefs shared by its students, staff, faculty, administration, and guests. Sponsorship of a speaker does not constitute endorsement of the expressed views. Learn more about the University System of Georgia's Freedom of Expression policy.

Freedom of Expression at the University of West Georgia

THE FIRST AMENDMENT OF THE CONSTITUTION: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

“But, above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.” - Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley (1972)

The First Amendment generally projects all speech, although the following areas of speech have lesser degrees of protection:

  • Obscenity (e.g.,child pornography)
  • Defamation and/or libel
  • Expression that involves illegal conduct, including but not limited to the following:
    • Willful disturbance of a lawful meeting
    • Inciting Illegal activity
    • Unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse
    • Vandalism and defacing property of another
    • Disturbance by loud and unreasonable noise
    • Trespass
    • Fighting or challenging another person to fight in a public place
    • Hanging a noose on a college campus for the purpose of terrorizing members of the campus community with the knowledge that it is a symbol representing a threat to life
    • Obstruction of a police officer
    • Use of offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction (such as fighting words).
    • Criminal threat: meaning any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out. The threat must, on immediate, and specific as to cause the person threatened to reasonably fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family’s safety

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Freedom of Expression

  • Does the First Amendment protect civil disobedience on campus?

    Does the First Amendment protect civil disobedience on campus?

    Civil disobedience is not protected speech under the Constitution. The Constitution does not guarantee any right to engage in civil disobedience, which, by its very definition, involves the violation of laws or regulations, without incurring consequences. Civil disobedience may have a negative effect on the protected interest of others and may interfere with University business or threaten public safety or University assets, in ways that require the University to act to protect those other interests.

  • What is hate speech and is it illegal?

    What is hate speech and is it illegal?

    The term “hate speech” is not defined by law, and no such category exists as an exception to the First Amendment. Even if speech is hateful or offensive, it is still protected by the First Amendment

  • When does speech become harassment?

    When does speech become harassment?

    Harassment is defined as verbal or physical conduct that unreasonably interferes with a person’s work or education, or creates a hostile or offensive working or educational environment when that conduct is based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship or service in the uniformed services. 

    Please review the University's policies and procedures on harassment for more information.

  • Is speech on the Internet and social media entitled to the same protections as speech in print and other media?

    Is speech on the Internet and social media entitled to the same protections as speech in print and other media?

    Yes. Internet and social media speech have the same protections as speech in print or via other media platforms. 

  • Are people allowed to take photographs or videos of students who are protesting?

    Are people allowed to take photographs or videos of students who are protesting?

    The University does not prohibit photographs being taken in public places, including when a protest is in a public place. 

  • Can the University prevent a speaker from coming to campus and sharing their message because the information is considered to be offensive to the community?

    Can the University prevent a speaker from coming to campus and sharing their message because the information is considered to be offensive to the community?

    No. The University makes provisions for a speaker to publicly address the campus via outdoor venues.  Speakers can be hired to come to campus who may express viewpoints in opposition to the majority.  The University cannot deny a speaker from presenting solely on the content of their speech, but may regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to assure equal opportunity for all persons, preserve order within the University Community, protect and preserve University property, and provide a secure environment to individuals exercising freedom of expression.

    Please see our Freedom of Expression Policy and Associated Campus Use Procedure for additional information. 

  • Can the university create free speech zones?

    Can the university create free speech zones?

    No, free speech zones which limit the ability for a speaker to share information to the public are not permissible.  However, speakers cannot interrupt the flow of traffic around the campus, block entrances to buildings, or interfere with the learning environment. 

  • Can students protest against a speaker they feel is offensive?

    Can students protest against a speaker they feel is offensive?

    You may engage in peaceful, non-disruptive protest, so long as the protest does not disrupt the event taking place (for example, creating a disturbance, preventing the speaker from communicating with an audience, or otherwise preventing audience members from seeing or hearing the event). 

    Please see our Freedom of Expression Policy and Associated Campus Use Procedure for additional information. University of West Georgia's Statement on Speakers provides more clarity as well.

Taking Action

  • Expressing Disagreements

    Expressing Disagreements During an Event

    Inside the room or event

    • You may engage in peaceful, non-disruptive protest if it does not create a disturbance or prevent the speaker from communicating to the audience, or otherwise prevent audience members from hearing and seeing the event.
    • Audience members may choose to leave the event as long as they do not obstruct the presentation.
    • For events held where access to the event space can be controlled/secured, event sponsors may regulate what may be brought into an event space (such as video cameras or other recording devices) and activities that attendees may engage in; regulations such as these are permitted as they relate to time/place/manner (i.e., conduct) and not content.
      • If you disrupt or obstruct the presentation or fail to comply with the directions of university officials to cease disruption or leave the area, you could be violating the university's code of conduct and/or the law.

    Outside a Building, room, or event

    • Peaceful protest or picketing with leaflets, petitions, singing, chanting or signs are allowed as long as it occurs in a space that is open to the public and does not disturb the event or prevent attendees from entering or leaving the event.
    • When engaging in a peaceful protest, please don’t do the following:
      • Block entrances or exits, impede pedestrian or vehicle traffic, or prevent others from entering, hearing, seeing or leaving the event or speech.
      • Use amplified sound unless allowed by applicable university policy.
      • Disrupt university functions or activities (such as nearby classes) or other events or programs using reserved space.

    Expressing Disagreements in Response to an Event

    Before, after, or during the event, you can respond to speech that you disagree with by sponsoring a separate presentation or event featuring alternative viewpoints, such as a:

    • Teach-in
    • Public forum
    • Vigil
    • Counter-demonstration
      Exhibit

    If you are confronted with offensive speech or materials:

    • Maintain a safe distance and do not respond physically.
    • Keep in mind that even though you find it offensive, it may be protected free speech.
    • Consider organizing an appropriate, nonviolent response.
    • Seek assistance from a university official if you feel you are being singled out or targeted or if you think that the conduct or speech violates university policy.
  • Scenarios

    Scenarios

    A Speaker in a Public Area On Campus

    Imagine there is a speaker on campus saying things that you deem hateful.

    • Is this behavior protected by the First Amendment? Yes.
    • Why are they allowed to be here? The First Amendment protects nearly all speech, including speech that is annoying, rude, offensive and potentially hateful to you. On a public university campus, outside areas and sidewalks are public forums where free speech can occur.
    • What can you do? There are many different options you can choose. Very often, the speaker is deliberately provocative in an attempt to gain an audience. One option is to ignore them completely and deny them that audience. You also have the right to rebuttal. You can engage in counter speech as an extension of your First Amendment rights. Additionally, if you believe you have experienced or witnessed an act of hate, bias, discrimination or harassment, report it to the university can follow up appropriately.
    • What can you not do? It is very important to note that you cannot touch any speaker, no matter how offensive you view their speech. By doing so, you might bring consequences upon yourself, while also obscuring the validity of your point of view.

    A Speaker in a Classroom

    Suppose that one of your professors is bringing in a guest speaker/lecturer that you believe is inappropriate or offensive.

    • Is this protected by the First Amendment? Yes.
    • Why are they allowed to be here? It is important to note that the principles of academic freedom protect freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching and freedom of expression and publication. Academic freedom offers broad discretion to educators regarding free inquiry and the exchange of ideas and opinions expressed in a university setting, and it grants universities the right to determine their educational mission without restraint. All that being said, there are still things you can do.
    • What can you do? You can protest the speaker outside of the building in public areas. If you plan to use amplified sound during your protest, you will need to register your event. You can also use social media to protest and raise awareness about the speaker and your objections or points of rebuttal.
    • What can you not do? You cannot disrupt the class or speaker. This may violate and subject you to student disciplinary action under the University's Student Code of Conduct.

    A Speaker Invited to Speak On Campus

    Imagine there is a speaker known to say things you deem hateful who has been invited to speak on campus by a member of faculty, staff, registered student organization or other recognized group.

    • Is this speech protected by the First Amendment? Yes.
    • Why are they allowed to be here? The First Amendment protects nearly all speech, including speech that is annoying, rude, offensive and potentially hateful to you. By allowing students access to use university facilities, such as auditoriums, classrooms and other buildings, to host speakers, the university has opened up such forums as public forums. Therefore, the university will not, and legally may not, discriminate based on content or viewpoint.
    • What can you do? As mentioned in the previous scenario, there are many different options you can choose. Very often, the speaker is deliberately provocative in an attempt to gain an audience. One option is to ignore them completely and deny them that audience. You also have the right to express your disagreement during the event, outside the venue or on social media in accordance with the guidance and limitations listed above.  Additionally, if you believe you have experienced or witnessed an act of hate, bias, discrimination or harassment, you can report to the university officials so that the incident can be investigated.  
    • What can you not do? You may not disrupt or obstruct the presentation. You may not block attendees from entering into or exiting from the event. It is very important to note that you cannot touch any speaker, no matter how offensive you view their speech. If you do, you may be subject to student disciplinary action or arrest.

    Disagreement with University Administration

    Imagine you would like to protest action by university administration by physically and actively expressing your disagreement.

    What can you do?

    • You may circulate a petition or send a letter voicing your concerns to the administration.
    • You may request to meet with university officials to discuss your concerns.
    • You may engage in peaceful protest
    • You may picket with leaflets,
    • You may engage in singing, chanting  
    • You may engage in carrying signs in spaces open to the public, such as the area outside the building or within lobbies during business hours.

    What can you not do?

    • Engage in an occupation/sit-in of an office
    • Block entrance to a building, floor of a building or a room
    • Obstruct or disrupt university staff or officials fulfilling their duties
    • Tag or mark university facilities with graffiti
  • Civil Disobedience

    Civil Disobedience

    Protests and civil disobedience have played a historic role on university campuses, in bringing important and beneficial changes within society and in the development of our democracy. However, civil disobedience is not protected speech under the Constitution. The Constitution does not guarantee any right to engage in civil disobedience—which, by its very definition, involves the violation of laws or regulations—without incurring consequences. 

    Civil disobedience may have a negative effect on the protected interests of others and may interfere with university business or threaten public safety or university assets in ways that require the university to act to protect those other interests. During protests and civil disobedience there are certain behaviors that could result in the university of police taking action.  

    What could cause the university to take action against me?

    • Destruction or damage to university property
    • Abuse of university electronic resources and systems
    • Physical abuse or threats
    • Obstructing or disrupting university activities
    • Disorderly or lewd conduct
    • Unlawful assembly
    • Failure to provide identification to or comply with directions of university official
    • Failure to comply with exclusion from or order to leave university property

    What can the police charge me with? 

    • Resisting arrest or delaying a peace officer
    • Assault and battery
    • Disrupting a public meeting
    • Attempting to free a person who has just been arrested
    • Riot and unlawful assembly
    • Failure to disperse
    • Disturbing the peace
    • Vandalism/graffiti
    • Trespassing
    • Refusing to obey a peace officer who is enforcing the Vehicle Code
    • Using force, a threat of force or physical obstruction to interfere with a person's right to reproductive health services or to attend a place of religious worship  
  • Resources

    Freedom of Expression Resources and Support

    The University of West Georgia is governed by the same laws as any government body, because we are a public university. This means that all UWG Wolves enjoy the protections of the First Amendment. 

    Students experiencing the free exchange of ideas may feel harmed or triggered by the views expressed by another individual.  While the University cannot restrict these liberties, we can and do offer services to help.  Below is a list of services that are available to members of our community.

    Confidential Resources

    • Counseling Center - Offers students an array of mental health support, including free, confidential groups; brief free confidential counseling, and referrals to resources on-and-off-campus.
    • Office of the University Ombuds - Provides an accessible, informal space in which members of the campus community (students, faculty, and staff) can seek assistance with navigating challenges or conflicts.
      • Telephone: 678-839-4165
      • Email: jfarmer@westga.edu

    Non-Confidential Resources

    • University of West Georgia Police Department - Provides law enforcement, security, parking, transportation services, and response to emergencies for members of the university community.
      • Telephone: 678-839-6000
    • Title IX & Equal Opportunity - Responsible for ensuring the university complies with applicable laws and policies regarding discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, or any other characteristics protected by institutional policy or state, local, or federal law.
    • Human Resources/Campus Relations - Provides resources to the UWG campus including dispute resolution, mediation, staff grievances and appeals, progressive discipline, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
    • Center for Student Involvement and Inclusion - Offers diverse and inclusive activities, organizations, and student leadership opportunities to engage students and enhance their personal and professional development. 
    • UWG Student Government Association (SGA) - UWG SGA provides an official voice through which student opinion may be expressed, enacts programs necessary for the general welfare of the student body and promotes unity among the students, faculty, and staff of the university.

    Reporting a concern for someone

    Report a concern for the wellbeing of yourself or another member of the UWG community via the UWG CARE’s Report.

    Reporting an incident/violation

    Submit a report to the University if you witnessed or heard of something that is a violation of the Student Code of Conduct.